Father Dwight Longenecker is a staple at Patheos and here and there on the right-leaning internet. I noticed today that Crux reprinted his essay from Crisis earlier this week. When I visit his site occasionally, Fr Longenecker strikes me as truly attempting to absorb the new tone in the Catholic Church. During the previous era, I thought him a bit stuffy and SCGS* in approach.
It’s not my style to fisk a person’s essay and construct an imaginary conversation like I was editing tape for personal amusement. I’d like to peel out one statement and reflect a bit:
I know the Synod on the Family is an attempt to make the Church more compassionate and caring, but with respect, this is not best done at the Vatican or diocesan level but on the parish level.
I tend to agree with this. But I suspect Fr Longenecker has been a Catholic and a priest long enough to know it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
One ministry incident from a number of years ago: a lesbian couple requested baptism for their infant. My pastor at the time contacted the canon law expert in the diocese as well as the bishop and received the go-ahead. Still, there were people fussing on the fringes of this ministry. I was not privy to the conversations with the complainers, but I know there were more than one, and that my boss devoted some time attempting to defuse the issue.
In the years 1978-2013, mercy on the parish level was occasionally costly. The Temple Police had decibels and clout, as often as not, it seemed.
I think the effort is to accomplish a more evangelical and welcoming ministry, ironically enough, with respect. The Gospel passage from a few weeks ago comes to mind as insightful of this situation when the landowner confronted the grumblers:
My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:13b-16)
Those who are looking for some heartening word from Pope Francis are forgetting the “deal” they made. It’s not the same deal sinners made or have yet to make. It’s not the same deal the elder brother holds. It’s a part of God’s topsy-turvy way of gathering as many as possible into the Reign.
I suggest we get used to it and enjoy the ride.
I sure hope we keep the door closed on the Temple Police. They drain away energy. They have their covenant. And that seekers and non-believers and sinners have a different way to God isn’t bothersome to me, nor should it be bothersome to any other believer.
After all, God is free to dispense mercy as wished, right? Or is envy at work here?
* Small church getting smaller